Saturday 21 September 2019

The Roaring Whirl: for Sarah Rodgers returning to her cross-cultural musical narrative after 27 years brings mixed emotions.

Geraldine Allen, Sarah Rodgers, Timothy Walker and Baluji Shrivastav in 1992 (Photo Roy Cuckow0
Geraldine Allen, Sarah Rodgers, Timothy Walker and Baluji Shrivastav in 1992 (Photo Roy Cuckow)
As part of Nottingham NOW festival in 1992 there was the world premiere staging of The Roaring Whirl a music-theatre piece based on Rudyard Kipling's Kim with music by Sarah Rodgers for Geraldine Allen (clarinet), Baluji Shrivastav (sitar/tabla/pakhavaj), Timothy Walker (guitar) and narrator Bhasker Patel. As part of the preparations for the performance, a recording of the work was made with a view to issuing it on disc. Following the festival there were further performances planned complete with a TV appearance, but unfortunately clarinettist Geraldine Allen had a life-changing accident which put everything on hold. The work was never revived and the materials (plus the recording) went into Sarah Rodgers' personal archive.

Twenty seven years later the recording is now being issued on Divine Art's metier label. I recently met up with Sarah to find out more about The Roaring Whirl and how it came about, and what it is like to revisit a score from 27 years ago.

The Roaring Whirl is essentially a musical narrative, telling the story through music. The work went through some development and the final version for the Nottingham NOW Festival in 1992 was fully staged with costumes for the instrumentalists and a kathak dancer as well as the narrator. It was originally an East Midlands Arts commission, they wanted a work which crossed over with another culture. The clarinettist Geraldine Allen was in the project from the beginning and as it grew the instrumentalists were brought in including Baluji Shrivastav playing a range of Indian instruments and narrator Bhasker Patel (who is now well-known for his role in the TV series Emmerdale).

The recording was made as part of the preparations for the stage show, partly to help Baluji Shrivastav (who is blind) memorise his part but also to provide the kathak dancer with something to rehearse to. The intention was always to take the recording forward at some point, but Geraldine's accident put everything on hold.

Sarah Rodgers: The Roaring Whirl - Divine Art/Metier
Sarah has a long relationship with Stephen Sutton of Divine Art partly because, wearing one of her other hats, Sarah runs the on-line music marketplace and they have long sold Divine Art CDs. At some point, Stephen asked Sarah whether she had anything of her own music which might be issued on a CD. (Most composers have recordings squirrelled away which they hope might work as a disc if the situation is right.) She sent him an excerpt from the recording of A Roaring Whirl, and they decided to go ahead.

27 years ago was before computers were commonplace in music, and when I meet Sarah she produces a beautifully hand-written score (in her own hand) which was the master copy of the score used for the performance. Since the work was put on hold, there was never a reason to transfer it to computer.

Returning to The Roaring Whirl after a gap of 27 years brought mixed emotions to Sarah. Partly this was listening to clarinettist Geraldine Allen at the top of her game, wondering where Geraldine's career might have gone had it not been for the accident. There is also the risky business of a composer listening back to their old music, and thinking 'did I write that?', 'what was I thinking?' and sometimes 'that's rather good'. It could have been scary, going back to the work again but listening to The Roaring Whirl, Sarah found the work thrilling and that it really worked.

The work gives a number of ways in for people. It tells the Kim story, the relationship between Kim and the Lama which is essentially a journey, and about friendship. Sarah finds Kipling's book interesting because there is so little jingoism in it, it does not feel as Colonial as many of his other works. The Roaring Whirl is in seven sections, the titles of which come from the novel. Six of these sections are narratives, each an accompanied reading followed by a musical interpretation, and the central movement is purely instrumental.

Sarah's music very much combines Western classical music with Indian classical and Sarah found it a lovely project, giving her the luxury of investigating the conventions of Indian music. Each section uses a different raga (implying a musical scale) and tala (implying rhythm), and Sarah points out that the different ragas have different qualities which affect the way they should be used.

Sarah has always had an interest in the music of other cultures and did her undergraduate dissertation in Javanese and Balinese gamelan. After her first degree she did voluntary service in Sierra Leone, the curriculum at the school where she taught was very music based, so she encouraged the department to embrace indigenous music, and she got the students to bring in music from their country.

Baluji Shrivastav, Basker Patel, Geraldine Allen and Sarah Rodgers at the launch event for The Roaring Whirl, 18/9/2019 (Photo Impulse Music Consultants)
Baluji Shrivastav, Basker Patel, Geraldine Allen and Sarah Rodgers at the launch event for The Roaring Whirl, 18/9/2019 (Photo Impulse Music Consultants)
Returning to the UK, for much of the early part of her career she was interested in cross-cultural projects, with ones based on African rhythms, a Japanese-based work for the City of London Sinfonia (a concerto grosso for shakuhachi and banshiri), a work for Sounds Positive based on an Indonesian chant called Kechak and a piece exploring aspects of Chinese music for the Olympics in Beijing

She emphasises that in a piece like The Roaring Whirl she is not writing Indian music, but responding to aspects of it and the piece is very much about Sarah using different aspects of Indian music as starting points for her own music.  As you cannot write like an indigenous composer, each of Sarah's cross-cultural works is pretty much stand-alone, about how the music of that particular culture impinged on her as a Western classical composer. But as she went along she gained more experience of being able to incorporate the character of other cultures into her music.

The main musical material in The Roaring Whirl is fully notated for all instruments (Western and Indian) but each part would have an improvised section which called for the musicians from the two traditions to respond to each other and very much allowed Baluji Shrivastav to flower.

Whilst Sarah would not be averse to the work being performed again, she realises that it would be a big undertaking and that more realistically the recording itself is more likely to get picked up and that it would respond well to some sort of audi-visual treatment.

Working with the music of other cultures, both in her cross-cultural projects and whilst doing Voluntary Service in Africa, has affected Sarah's own music she thinks. It has given a very strong sense of rhythm to her writing, and also meant that she is not afraid to produce musical surprises. Beyond that, she realises she would not be the same person without the experiences. "Everything you encounter and use, you don't chuck it away and it becomes part of the colouring of your musical voice."

Sarah Rodgers and Geraldine Allen today (Photo Denise Bradley/Eastern Daily Press)
Sarah Rodgers and Geraldine Allen today (Photo Denise Bradley/Eastern Daily Press)
As to other musical influences, Sarah places herself within the English tradition and loves English mid-century music, RVW, Walton, Berkeley. But she also feels quite eclectic, and responds to Russians like Stravinsky and Prokofiev. She likes things that have lots of colour and are ear catching, not things that emerge gradually.

Studying at University of Nottingham, Sarah did a little composition but it was mainly restricted to work on different styles and techniques. But whilst working in Africa there was a limited amount of repertoire available so she created it for her students to perform. "Art comes out of necessity" She felt comfortable with writing music, and felt it contributed something; she felt she had something to say.

Returning to the UK she continued, and found that she enjoyed engaging with performers. She comments that having talented performers as friends is something all composers need to capitalise on; if they are good friends they will tell you what they think! In the UK she ran a theatre group in Waterloo and wrote all the incidental music. She regards herself as a crafts-person composer, writing music that needs to be engaging and needs to do the job. Having this strand to her work is important to Sarah, as well as having her own projects.

Sarah Rodgers: The Roaring Whirl - Baluji Shrivastav, Bhasker Patel, Geraldine Allen, Timothy Walker - Divine Art Records 
Support Planet Hugill when you buy from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • The other Fausts: a very different version of Gounod's classic opera is revealed by this important new recording from Palazzetto Bru Zane (★★★) - CD review
  • Mysterious hauntings & magical happenings: Tales of the Beyond at the Oxford Lieder Festival  - feature article
  • A satisfying evening, certainly: whatever the caveats: Juan Diego Flórez & Isabel Leonard in Massenet's Werther at Covent Garden (★★★) - opera review
  • What they did before Figaro: Bampton Classical Opera revives Stephen Storace's comedy written for Vienna's Burgtheater the year before they premiered Mozart's comedy (★★★½) - opera review
  • Playing of great presence, yet on an intimate scale: chamber versions of Beethoven's symphonic music from I Musicanti at Conway Hall - concert review
  • Coruscating: Leila Josefowicz in Colin Matthews with Simon Rattle & the LSO in an all-British opening concert including Emily Howard & William Walton (★★★½) - concert review
  • Prom 74: Beethoven Night is Back: imaginative programming from Andrew Manze and NDR Radiophilharmonie, Hanover (★★★) - concert review
  • An interesting and illuminating mix: I chat to Ensemble Hesperi about combining Scottish Baroque music with Highland dance - interview
  • A listening challenge: Philippe Manoury's large-scale musical fresco for piano duo and electronics in a stunning performance (★★) - Cd review
  • A terrific place to start an exploration of Jonathan Dove's non-operatic output: Lawrence Zazzo, BBC Philharmonic, Timothy Redmond on Orchid Classics  (★★★) - CD review
  • A considerable company achievement: David Blake's Scoring a Century from British Youth Opera - Opera review
  • Prom 63: A 'nice mountain to climb', Yuja Wang, Dresden Staatskapelle, Myung-Whun Chung at the BBC Proms  (★★★) - concert review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month